Last Wednesday, Columbia University formally announced that it would no longer require SAT/ACT scores for its applicants. It will permit applicants to submit test scores, but its stated criteria for candidate evaluation has become . . . holistic. Or, in its words, “purposeful and nuanced — respecting varied backgrounds, voices and experiences — in order to best determine an applicant’s suitability for admission and ability to thrive in our curriculum and our community, and to advance access to our educational opportunities.” Columbia isn’t the first institution of higher learning to make standardized-testing requirements optional, but it is the first Ivy League university to do so.
To be clear: Everyone in the world of academia understands this to be a pretext, and a shabby one at that. What Columbia is doing, and what more elite universities may do in the immediate future, is preparing itself for the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, cases argued jointly before the Court last October. The upcoming decision is expected, given the composition of the Court, to either strike down or severely limit the sorts of explicit affirmative-action regimes employed by college admissions ever since 2003’s egregious Grutter v. Bollinger decision. At stake here is the possessiveness elite universities (both public and private) feel over their ability to directly shape the racial and social (and now even political) demography of their matriculating classes. Choosing the composition of tomorrow’s new elite — which is what admissions committees understand themselves to be doing — is a privilege these institutions guard jealously.
The self-evident value of standardized testing is not something that National Review should have to rise to speak in defense of (but then we could say the same about much else these days). And why? Because testing is the great equalizer. This is not mere supposition; clinical studies have shown that standardized testing does exactly what you expected it would: It identifies intellectually gifted children from all strata of society, but even more crucially allows talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds (whether economic or minority) to shine in a way their local educational opportunities (or a chaotic home life) might never have permitted. It forms the essence of what any just conception of America as a so-called meritocracy was supposed to be about: You might have gone to Phillips Exeter Academy and had the best SAT tutors available to you — but this kid over here living above his parents’ corner store and studying when he doesn’t have to mind the shop? He took it once and scored a 1590.
But alas, that teenager is Asian, you see. And the unstated premise (by university admissions committees, at least) is that Asians are simply overperforming on these tests, and their presence is, well, glutting elite universities: too many successful Asian students, distorting the perfectly balanced multihued racial rainbow that DEI administrators insist makes for a properly “equitable” university. The grotesqueness of playing favorites on racial lines has always offended conservatives, but we cannot help but be even more outraged by noting that Columbia cares so much about this issue that they were willing to forgo standardized testing before they gave up legacy admissions. The message is clear: We want our community to look a certain way, and that’s that.
It is impossible for us not to hear in all of this a bleak echo of Columbia University’s admissions policies from days past, when they schemed to deal with another minority group they regarded as, if not outright undesirable, then embarrassing to their blue-blooded sensibilities: Jews. In a different era with far less public scrutiny, Columbia University simply shunted Jewish applicants off to a local community college instead so as to keep them from embarrassing the WASP gentility of the Ivy League by their demographic dominance at the main campus. It worked: Columbia’s matriculating classes went from being 40 percent Jewish to 25 percent almost instantly.
In short, we oppose the abolition of standardized testing because we recognize it for what it is: a cheap, shabby maneuver by educational institutions to racially discriminate. What is most appalling of all is that institutions such as Columbia have made a strategic calculation that they will ultimately benefit in terms of their social prestige from a thinly veiled act of bigotry. They should be proven wrong.
Read the full piece from the National Review here.